Engaging Rurality in Australian Education Research: Gaps, Silences and misdirection

Year: 2021

Author: Downes, Natalie

Type of paper: Individual Paper

In this paper we examine the position of the rural in Australian education research over the last twenty three years. This analysis was informed by an appreciation of the difficulty in defining the rural. It is situated within work emanating from rural studies, and in rural education, that explores the complexity of defining the rural and the affordances and limitations of each approach to defining the rural (Roberts & Guenther, 2021; Roberts & Green, 2013; Reid et al, 2010). The paper draws upon a qualitative content analysis of the major Australian education, and rural education, research journals to identify how the words ‘rural’, ‘remote’, ‘regional’, & ‘provincial’ have been used in education research. The content analysis identified that the overwhelming number of studies in Australian education research did not identify and consider rurality in their definitions of rurality and analysis, even those in the rural education journals. Of the 868 articles in the 6 Australian education journals less than 3% considered the complexities of rurality in their definitions and analysis. In the rural education journal less than 20% of articles considered the complexities of rurality in their definitions and analysis. This research identified that the approach of valuing rurality does not appear to have penetrated education research and policy more broadly. Rather, a statistical definition of the rural, based on geography and proximity to services (ABS, 2011) is operationalised in educational policy at the expense of more social and cultural definitions (Roberts & Green, 2013). This results in the rural being constructed as a category of difference and, inherently, compared to elsewhere. From this analysis we propose a framework to support researchers to value the rural who aim to work with rural schools and communities.